Ed Callahan and the Four C's: A Personal Reflection

In the 1980s, Ed Callahan found a bunch of well-meaning, hard-working, little financial services institutions helping factory workers, telephone linemen, teachers, airline employees and the like. Ed gave them his half-time pep talk. He told them they could be better than they thought they could be.


Ed was not a writer. He was a visionary, a talker, and a persuader, but not a pen-to-paper man. Perhaps he thought too quickly; perhaps he didn’t have the patience to make hardcopy. Anyway, until Ed fell ill, one of my jobs over the last 20 years for the Callahan Report was to render into prose the orations that flowed from Ed’s tongue. It was an honor and a privilege; it was an eye-opener.

No one could separate Ed the credit union leader from Ed the football coach and Catholic school leader; you could as easily take the flour out of the dough. Ed grew up in a steel mill city – Youngstown, Ohio – where boys smashed each other with fierce resolve on the football field. Competition was the heart that pumped Ed’s blood. He grew up frugal, hardworking, determined. He played football at Marquette. Realizing what football had done for him, he was gripped by the desire to have it do for others, and so he became a coach, the beginning of a lifetime of teaching and of urging his own vision of progress upon anyone who would listen.

Ed’s monthly contributions to the Callahan Report were often like half-time pep talks. He saw what the future could be and he laid it out for you. But he was the coach and you were the players, so it was up to you to get the work done, and it was often very hard work indeed. It usually meant struggle against people or forces that were working to make or keep you small. It usually meant sacrifice, to accept pain in the short run for success in the long run. Who can say that he was wrong?

Ed didn’t like the soft, the easy, the accommodating. What he did like was families like his – families of average Americans that put in a hard day’s work and didn’t cozy to the notion that greedy people might charge more for services than they should have. He liked nothing more than such families banding together to form cooperatives and then charging themselves only as much as those services really cost. That, to Ed, was a big part of the American Dream.

Ed and the Four Cs

You could never take the coach out of Ed. Nor could you take out two other Cs. These were Competition and Cooperation. Some people see them as antithetical, but Ed saw them as two sides of one coin. He believed competition ushered up the best ideas and efforts. He believed that cooperation was the way a whole society moves forward to a better life. He saw them like two strands of a braid, moving together, each reinforcing the other.

There was a fourth C that Ed talked about a lot: Change. For a man out of a traditional background it may have seemed strange but Ed could preach change like a fire-and-brimstone rouser. Embrace change, he’d say: Have it, breathe it, make it yourself. Get with change, or be left in the dust.

Ed often talked about waves. Get in position he’d say. Ride the crest of a wave of change so you move with its energy; don’t be caught with your heels in the sand when the change comes or it’s smash you down. Ed was a wave himself. When he entered a room, you knew something was different.

Game Day

In the 1980s, Ed entered the room, call it the locker room, of American credit unions. He found a bunch of well-meaning, hard-working, little financial services institutions helping factory workers, telephone linemen, teachers, airline employees and the like. He gave them his half-time pep talk. He told them they could be better than they thought they could be. He told them they could cooperate to make the strongest savings insurance fund in America. He told them that if they embraced deregulation, if they both competed and cooperated, they could go out in the second half and do truly amazing things, be David to banks’ Goliath, pull off an upset. Those credit unions went out from the locker room into the stadium and the rest is history.

Ed is now pacing the sidelines. Watching. Watching like a good and happy coach.




March 16, 2009


  • Ed, We will miss your guidance and encouragement. Enjoy your rest, you deserve it. Dan
    Dan Kampen
  • I worked for Ed very briefly at Patelco Credit Union (3 months temp assignment). Ed was not only a tough business man who knew what needed to be done but he was kind, compassionate and caring. It was a rare combination that I will miss.
    Stewart Chang
  • I wanted to emulate Ed’s successful negotiating style, but I couldn’t drink in to the middle of the night and then start a rational and planned negotiation strategy. Ed definitely COULD and DID! His strength of character and commanding presence were truly something to see when he entered the room, held court, or just made a strong position statement sitting around the CEO table. At times like this, we can take comfort in knowing that he will be missed and not forgotten by the many people he touched in the many facets of his full life.
    Mark Elliott
  • I want to thank all of you that sent me kind words about Ed’s passing. Without a doubt he has been one of the key people to influence my life on every level, he was and will always be a coach constantly on my mind and counted on as a blessing. More than that, he was a friend, contributor, and special asset to this CUSO in a very real and tangible way. Ed’s tutelage on and referencing of our efforts to develop collaborative solutions truly changed how all of us and the market place saw CU*Answers. Ed was a leader who always left his finger prints on the futures of the people, companies, and even industries that were lucky enough to cross his path. I have met very few people who could with a simple look, single word, or slight adjustment could accomplish so much – our history as a firm will note the milestone of the day we met and shared our mutual interests with Ed Callahan.
    Randy Karnes
  • Our industry will certainly miss all that made Ed Callahan the provocative and committed visionary for "Credit Union Land" that he was. I have fond memories from the late 80's of interacting with Ed......not only professionally but also personally as we attended at multiple tail gate BBQ's at 49er playoff games at Candlestick Park in San Francisco in the 90's....I will never forget the twinkle in his eye and the comments and thoughts that followed when I shared with him my Dad's University of Minnesota Golden Gopher year books from 1934 thru 1936 when they were national champrons. The pictures on the page took him back many years to his playing days and all that were sitting around him so enjoyed listening to him remark about the players that were noted in the yearbooks. Kinda like sitting around a parking lot outside of a baseball park listening to Yogi Berra talk about baseball..... Ed accomplished so much in his life - both personally and professionally. His vision and insight that resulted in the creation of the overall CUSO authority for credit unions has been instrumental in enabling CU's to complete thru collaboration that results in gaining scale. We will be sure to be attentive stewards of what Ed stood for given that he will be watching us all! Pete Snyder SCS, LLC
    Pete Snyder
  • I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Mr. Ed Callahan. I had the pleasure of hearing Ed speak at one of your annual meetings of Callahan and Associates a few years ago. He had so much admirable passion for the credit union industry and did so much for the industry. I’m sure you both will miss him dearly. The credit union industry as a whole is better because of his contributions. He was a fine man.
    Mike Scott
  • Where would any of us be without the coaches who have influenced our lives. Emulating their values don't come from reading eloquent writing or even listening to them deliver beautifully crafted speeches. Professional, successful growth comes from following their lead, paying attention to wise counsel, and striving to improve in ways that we might not realize we should - until pointed out to us. We are all leaders to someone. Seeing the impact Ed Callahan has had on others makes me even more conscious of making my walk match my talk. Thank you for sharing this inside view and for reminding us to appreciate our coaches.
  • I first met Ed Callahan when he came to the NCUA board. We had a lot of financial challenges in the early 1980’s much like folks are facing today. It was very hard to make a bottom line. I remember the most we could charge on loans was 12% and the most we could pay on savings was 6% and we were not allowed to even offer Certificate of Deposit (Share Certificates). Ed changed that before any of the other regulators did. The banks and S & L’s had Regulation Q which limited what they could pay on savings to 5%. Ed got our limit removed allowing us to pay whatever we wanted on savings and we also got Share Certificates at a time when we were all competing for savings. We got deregulated first, thanks to Ed. Ed was a leader and innovator and he will be remembered and missed.
    Hank Klein